Opinion: Does our party’s structure and constitution need an overhaul?

Liberal Democrat Conference 2011There are many issues facing the Liberal Democrats at the moment and there has been much discussion about these issues. But one which has been overlooked, in my opinion, is the need to apply our traditional enthusiasm for constitutional reform to ourselves

At the moment the structure of the party is essentially a replica of a national political system. We have constituencies of local parties whose members (the voters) elect a local government in the form of a party executive and who also elect voting representatives (MPs) by proportional representation to send to conference (parliament) where they in turn elect the Federal Executive and the Federal Policy and Conference Committees (the government).

Local parties also elect voting representatives to represent them at state or regional conference (devolved parliaments) where they elect a regional executive committee (a devolved government). Then a dash of presidentialism is added by the direct election of the leader by the members.

Ultimately, our party is built on the same basis as our political system which had its origins in the 19th century when people were limited to their local areas and had no option other than to work through siloed hierarchies. And if our political system is being challenged by low participation and engagement then the same problems are facing our party structure on a much greater scale.

This can be seen best in two aspects. The first is that it places multiple layers between a member and having any say in the direction and policy of the party. The second is that it acts as a barrier to effective campaigning by turning each local party into its own little silo with members being segregated within it for better or for worse depending on how well it functions.

If a local party is dysfunctional, or dormant or only focused on one area, then members wanting to get out and campaign in their neighbourhood are handicapped right from the beginning by having no way to contact fellow Lib Dems nearby and no tools to do something as simple as canvassing. And if a local party is active but a neighbouring local party isn’t then a task as basic as inviting members from the wider area to a social event is like drawing blood from a stone.

There are dozens of other examples of ways in which our party structure places obstacles in the ways of our members being empowered to work effectively for no good reason and the only plausible solution to these obstacles is reform to bring party structure into the 21st century.

Now, personally, if I were to suggest a starting point for how to reform the party then I’d pick the model of a network. A network of members centred on multiple organisational hubs such as Lib Dem HQ with individual members having the tools they need to organise from the bottom up.

Could it work? Is it the best we can come up with? Those are all questions which are difficult to answer. But when it comes to the question of whether our party’s structure and constitution need an overhaul then there definitely is a clear answer: Yes. Unequivocally yes.

 

* George Potter is a councillor in Guildford

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35 Comments

  • Tony Greaves 10th Jun '14 - 12:46pm

    Ha! All power to the :Leader and his courtiers is what this would mean.

    Democracy may have developed in the 19th century. But it is what we believe in and stand for. Not this kind of rubbish.

    Tony

  • Steve Comer 10th Jun '14 - 1:08pm

    @ George “If a local party is dysfunctional, or dormant or only focused on one area, then members wanting to get out and campaign in their neighbourhood are handicapped right from the beginning by having no way to contact fellow Lib Dems nearby and no tools to do something as simple as canvassing.”

    What a load of rubbish! Way back in 1980 I started a Focus campaign in a ward with NO Liberal Party members. (It had only ever had two paper candidates since the 1930s). I started campaigning by producing a leaflet and delivering half the ward, starting with the houses either side of mine. I followed it up with some door knocking, another person joined the party and 3 or 4 signed up as deliverers. I fought an election the following year, and lost by 31. We kept campaigning with Focus and surveys, then two years later the other member and I won by 6 00 votes. We didn’t worry about party “worthies and apparatchiks”, we just got the artwork sheets from ALC and got on with it. Whats to stop anyone doping the same now?

    You alternative looks suspiciously like the old Marxist “democratic centralism” to me – the very antithesis of a liberal structure. I’m sure the party structure could do with reviewing, but it should still be based on elected bodies with accountability. I also dfeel its not a priority less than a year before a General Election.

  • Sadie Smith 10th Jun '14 - 1:16pm

    Have a look at the old Liberal Party constitution. It was elastic and incorporated proper politics. It gave the SDP hysterics.

  • But canvassing people on an ad hoc basis without access to the electoral register isn’t as effective as modern tools like Connect, for example.
    What is your measure of “effectiveness”? Because what the Party is doing right now doesn’t seem all that effective to me.

  • @George

    Isn’t the use case you’re describing a communications problem rather than a constitutional one?

    I’d have thought social networking tools (or even email & the phone) would tackle the problem you’ve described.

  • Matthew Huntbach 10th Jun '14 - 2:10pm

    George Potter

    If a local party is dysfunctional, or dormant or only focused on one area, then members wanting to get out and campaign in their neighbourhood are handicapped right from the beginning by having no way to contact fellow Lib Dems nearby and no tools to do something as simple as canvassing.

    Oh, come on. “No way”? Er, there’s this thing called “Google”. Type the name of your neighbouring borough and “Liberal Democrats” into it, and it’ll give you the contact details of fellow LibDems there. I’m pretty sure in most cases if you phone them or email and say “I live in the neighbouring borough, but there’s not much going on in the way of party campaigning there, so I’d like to do a bit of canvassing for you”, they’ll be able to provide you with what you need to get on with it.

    Now, personally, if I were to suggest a starting point for how to reform the party then I’d pick the model of a network. A network of members centred on multiple organisational hubs such as Lib Dem HQ with individual members having the tools they need to organise from the bottom up.

    Well, the old Liberal Party had something like this. You could be a member through an affiliated constituency organisation, or through various associated organisations, membership of which gave you full party membership. My own membership of the party at the time of its merger with the SDP came through being a member of the Young Liberals rather than a constituency organisation.

    You seem to be contradicting yourself, because on the one hand you say you want “a social network where people can talk to people in their area”, on the other you seem to be against organisation on this basis. So perhaps you could give us some more specific ideas on what you would like to see. Do you want, for example, the creation of special interest groups which would have constitutional rights in the party? But doesn’t that amount to just the sort of “labyrinth of overlapping bodies” which you are complaining about?

    The danger is that some of what you are saying could be interpreted as opposition to groups of Liberal Democrats coming together locally and doing things, and suggesting instead that membership of the Liberal Democrats should be mainly about signing up to the party nationally and then getting a stream of communication from the national party. Some of the opposition to what you say which you are seeing here comes from past experience of that being the sort of model of political party some at the top were pushing, with local activists dismissed as dangerous out-of-touch extremists who needed to be neutralised by attracting a whole load of passive members whose only party activity would be to pay their membership fund and receive their leader-approved material telling them this week’s Party Line.

    If we want a party which is primarily about bringing people together as a network of campaigners, then rather than think in terms of constitutional change, I think you should be calling for change in what comes out from the party nationally. Why is so much of it focussed on the person of the party leader? When did we last (if ever) have a Party Political Broadcast which was all about the benefits of being a member and an active campaigner, and which featured such people rather than The Leader? Why do we let the press get away with reporting our party largely in terms of a few Westminster personalities?

    Maybe if we had a national leader who showed some sort of interest in the party taking that form, and saw himself or herself as just the voice of that network and LISTENED to members and acted accordingly, we might get somewhere along the lines you want.

  • Jenny Barnes 10th Jun '14 - 2:39pm

    “the structure of the party is essentially a replica of a national political system.”
    Replica (n) an exact reproduction, usually of a work of art, in the same materials and by the same artist or craftsman. Not a copy, scale model,, simulation etc.
    I think the word you’re looking for here is “model”.
    ( and does “essentially” have any function in the sentence, apart from making it longer?)

  • Hi George,

    I’m surprised at some of the negative comments here, I didn’t come across as ‘power to the leader’ to me. I guess its a sign of the times that everything posted on LDV is perceived as a ploy to sure up Nick Clegg’s leadership ;-). I saw it much more as giving power back to the grassroots.

    The conference rep system is in dire need of reform, any member who can be bothered enough to take time out of their lives should be able to vote conference, period. Its an absolute no brainer, One member one vote for committee/party appointments is something I would advocate too.

    re: Connect access, its also an issue of cost. It does have a monthly fee and for less than active areas its something you might not be able to afford. Its a discussion we’ve had in our local party. Just on whether people have been canvassed in your local area though you don’t need connect access for this, they wont have been 🙂

  • Joshua Dixon 10th Jun '14 - 3:37pm

    Well some of these responses are bloody worrying…no wonder the party is in the mess its in. Too many people trying to live in an age that came and went along time ago.

  • I wish this thread had got off to a better start..

    Liberals complain about constitutions. If only we did “x” to the constitution the world would be a better place, we would be free of the terrible constraints of the past, we could move ourselves into the 20th Century.

    I actually have some sympathy with George Potter’s view, unlike most of the commentators so far. But the real problem is not the constitution, it is the fact that we have had a leader for seven years who is clearly not up to the job. So step one is to get rid of Clegg. Step two is to rebuild the party.

    To rebuild the party we cannot pretend that the social and technological changes that my grown up children take for granted haven’t happened.

    Tony Greaves is right that locally based, human scale., democratic local parties are a fundamental of the Liberal DNA. Trade unions, the WI, sports clubs, dog owners, horticultural societies, all sorts of groups as well Liberals have often grown up with a type of locally based ‘democratic’ organisation. They are often excellent ‘training grounds’ for people who go on to run their local council or become parliamentary candidates. Not everybody yearns to be a SpAd or Leon Brittan’s tea boy before leaping into a sparkling career in the Westminster, rising without trace.

    But locally based groups like local pubs and churches have been in decline. I have noticed that many groups have changed in the last thirty years. There have been increasing numbers of organisations which are happy to take your money, call you a “member”, put you on their computer database , send you a glossy magazine occasionally and treat you like a “customer”. But they shy away from including local groups in their structure.

    Some people are trying to change the Liberal Democrat party in his way. They are the sort of people who send out free memberships to pretend that the number of members is not declining. They want you to go to conferences but only because they can extract cash from you at every turn. They make sure that you will not influence the conference too much.

    I am a member of the National Trust which fits this description above. It has an AGM to which I am invited. There is voting as well. But do I regard it as a democratic organisation? No, not really. I have not been to an AGM in the 35 years that I have been a member because they usually happen a long way from home. I have occasionally voted in postal ballots but mainly because there has been something to do with hunting foxes or governments being beastly to badgers. Is the National Trust a participatory democracy where the members really run the show? Of course not.

    I am not suggesting that George Potter wants to turn the party into a National Trust style “cash-extraction” machine. But there are those in the party (not a million miles from the Lame Duck Leader) who would like to do just that.

    So how do we improve the structure without losing the essentially Liberal elements? Sadie Smith’s brief comment may provide a clue.

  • Nick Barlow 10th Jun '14 - 5:10pm

    I think there are genuine concerns about turning us into yet another top-down party, but I’m pretty sure that’s not what George is proposing!

    I think we do need to ask, though, whether our current structures do what we want them to in 2014. If we were to be establishing a liberal political party from scratch in 2014, would we do everything in exactly the same way as we have it now? A lot of structures in many parties – not just us – are throwbacks to the days when parties had mass memberships, and more people were willing to spend time going to political meetings. Sure, the structure does have to work in parallel with the existing political structures in the country, but we don’t have to rigidly follow a certain way of working just because it worked before, in different circumstances.

    What we need is more effort to increase participation and involvement from members, and a structure that allows that – I’d like to see us look into systems like Liquid Feedback that the German Pirates have used for debating policy and strategy, where every member can participate at any time, not just wait until Conference to have their say. (I think some of the discussions about one-member one-vote are putting the cart before the horse when there’s no effective demos within the party membership)

    It may be that our current method of running the party, to borrow from Churchill, is the worst way of doing it except for all the others we could try, but we should be willing to properly look at the way we work as a whole (not just occasional tweaks to bits and pieces) to be sure of that.

  • Stephen Hesketh 10th Jun '14 - 7:34pm

    George, I read your article at work this lunchtime and couldn’t quite understand the negative comments posts it had drawn amongst its early responses. Nothing is ever perfect and anything that was nearly so in one era clearly requires review in the next. The world moves on.

    Since getting home I have been pleased to see the more recent posts from John Tilley, Gareth Wilson, Nick Barlow etc being more supportive of the idea. That is not to say that Matthew Huntbach does not make some useful points.

    Making contact with local parties is not however quite as easy as Matthew seems to believe – my daughter lives in a nearby town and sent several emails, left messages and in the end contacted Clegg Towers in an attempt to become involved in her local party. She even encountered slight animosity locally for her pains! Perhaps not quite the reception a keen new recruit might have anticipated!

    Also, recently we have had Gordon Lishman’s post looking to strengthening party structures. I am certain this is worth another read. My own belief is that our constitution must also prevent future leaders (stewards) of our party and movement setting off on a personal and unsupported crusade to move the party to somewhere called ‘the centre’ or anywhere else for that matter without the combined agreement of the party executive and, using OMOV, the membership.

    I rather think the HQ is unlikely to be the place many would trust as the location of any hub for quite some time.

    I would however suggest that the issues of retaining as many of our parliamentary seats as possible, not allowing any individual or small group to predetermine future coalition preferences or red line policies and resolution of the leadership question are more pressing issues for the next twelve months or so.

    But in principle George, count me in also.

  • Stephen Donnelly 10th Jun '14 - 7:41pm

    I have a lot of sympathy for the views expressed by George. In some parts of the country the local party acts to block involvement, and positively discourages new members. I suspect many local branches of the party are dominated by a few well entrenched individuals. New members can come to the annual AGM if they like. They may come once, decide that they would have to devote their lives to the party to gain any say in things, and depart. This has resulted in a narrowing of the party base. A political party needs to be active on several fronts. The strategy of concentrating entirely on local politics came unstuck the first time we had to take national position through our involvement in government. And we can never go back to it. There are a lot of member who bitterly regret that. Many of them lost their council seats as a result of our entry into government. A generation of work was undone. It will never be the same again. Time to listen to some of our younger members, and try to move on.

  • I think that our constitution needs amending. George Potter sets out very well the model of how our constitution works. It is clearly a representative democracy. As we should all recognise this is the best model for democracy because better decisions should be made by those elected because they have the time to consider the issues more than the general membership.

    However the problem we have is accountability and having direct elections does not make the elected more accountable because again the general membership don’t have the time to do the job.

    We need to amend the constitution so that those elected to public office MPs, councillors etc. will be removed from the party if they make a commitment to vote a certain way and then don’t do it, or if they fail to vote for party policy as agreed at the relevant conference unless they stated during the conference debate that they wouldn’t vote for the proposed policy or say so during their campaign to be selected as the candidate.

    We need to amend the constitution so that Federal Conference can hold the Federal Committees to account. Any decision of these committees should be able to be reviewed by Conference and Conference can then vote to censure those who voted for the decision and this will appear in the election booklet when they re-stand for election. Also Conference should be able to vote for the issue to go back to the Committee for them to make a new decision.

    With regard to getting involved in a different area to your Local Party. This doesn’t seem to be a problem. My local party has good relations with the Local Party we have always shared the Borough area with and I have worked in their area and many of them have worked in my Local Party area. Also we have some members who live within the Borough area but in another Local Party area who choose to be members of our Local Party. So I don’t see that there is really an issue. If a Local Party is dormant or dysfunctional then it is the Regional Party’s responsibility either to merge it with a neighbouring Local Party or to run the Local Party itself. With regard to social events lots of members of my Local Party are invited to social events of the neighbouring Local Party and vice versa.

    @ George Potter 10th Jun 2.21pm

    We don’t need to change the structure or the constitution to bring in a system like your “Toolkit” model. If we had the money we could setup the system online. The problem will come at the paid organiser level, because they don’t really exist. There is likely to be paid staff at the regional level but would they be instructed by their democratically elected body to do this contacting or would they have to be told to do it whether the region thought it was the best use of their time.

    I object to the idea that members should make policy without being involved in the debate on the policy. I want more to be really involved and not just by voting. However I do support increasing the number of people who can be voting representatives at conference and maybe allowing each Local Party to have an extra voting rep for every 10 members after the 8 for 50 would be the answer and allowing there to be a way members to be voting reps for areas where the Local Party is run by the Region.

  • Stephen Hesketh 10th Jun '14 - 9:14pm

    Hi Stephen, I can see exactly where you are coming from re entrenched individuals and the party base. And yes, we do need to be active on several fronts. Not everyone has the time or inclination to be a councillor, agent etc but may still have much to offer the party.

    As Nick Clegg didn’t say, it’s not all about holding office.

    In terms of your local issues and getting people involved, one of our Councillors started a Pasta and Politics evening which is usually over-subscribed. I think that may be worth a trying something like that. Even a group chat in the corner of a quiet pub might grow into something bigger. Old arguments do fade.

    But if we don’t challenge “It will never be the same again”, it never will be.

    The need for change in our communities and country is as great as ever. (Working) class loyalties are not what they where, young people are more liberal, UKIP will take votes from the ‘Labourite’ tendency (as opposed to genuine socialists) and obviously from the ever-present Tory little-Englanders. If we are entering a period of 4 or even 5 party politics, the demand for PR will undoubtedly increase. If we can clearly mark ourselves out as the centre-left party of radical Liberal Democratic reform and fairness, everything is still to play for.

  • Mark Valladares Mark Valladares 11th Jun '14 - 12:37am

    George,

    As someone who has spent most of his political life knee-deep in the bureaucratic swamp that is the Party Constitution, I get your frustration. However, I’m not convinced that the problems you seek to solve are so easily addressed or, indeed, need such a solution as you propose.

    Firstly, the Party relies on volunteers to do most things, from Secretaries to Treasurers, Returning Officers to Regional Chairs, and there isn’t exactly a rush of people to do those jobs. Accordingly, many of those positions are filled by people doing the best they can, amidst their other commitments, with as much enthusiasm as they can muster. Given how many of them need to have their arms twisted in the first place, is it reasonable to expect them to do more than the minimum they can get away with? As a result, some of them won’t be very good. Perhaps more support from our Regional Parties might help, although most of the key figures there are volunteers, operating at multiple tiers of the party.

    Secondly, accountability – something that I have struggled with publicly for many years. I serve as one of the Party’s directly elected delegates to the ALDE Party Council, our pan-European liberal group. The Party offers me no means by which I can report to conference delegates other than my manifesto for re-election, so I make it a point to write reports for Liberal Democrat Voice. The reports are, I admit, a bit dull, as the work of Council is important, but almost entirely bureaucratic, so I persist. But, even if the Party did provide a space in the members’ area of the website, how many of you reading this would bother to find it and read the reports? Not many, I’d wager.

    Thirdly, local party organisation. Yes, some Local Parties are rubbish – insular, ineffectual, unwelcoming. Others are very good, inviting, active, engaged. We organise on the basis of branches with, hopefully, some geographic cohesion, allowing campaigning to take place on the basis of local government elections, as we do in Mid Suffolk, or on the basis of Parliamentary constituencies. We moved to district council boundaries here in Suffolk, because we found that wards slipped between the cracks otherwise. That means that we can convey a consistent message across our patch, and our members all have a mutual interest in working towards holding and winning wards in Mid Suffolk.

    So yes, we could do better, and yes, technology can help with that, but moving away from our traditional structure of local parties with devolved powers – the very same concept of subsidiarity that we urge upon the country – should only be done if it retains the right of local communities (in this case, local parties) to act with a degree of independence and initiative, whilst allowing and encouraging local campaigning.

  • Mark Valladares Mark Valladares 11th Jun '14 - 7:52am

    @ Leon Greenwell,

    Most effective for whom exactly? I’d be interested to know who came up with that notion, but it seems more likely to be Labour or COnservative inspired, It strikes me that a democratic-centralist model runs entirely contrary to the notion of liberalism.

  • James Sandbach 11th Jun '14 - 10:16am

    I agree with the point George is trying to make, why should capability of members to participate be a post-code lottery. And whilst we have rigid national, regional and local structures there’s nothing by way of organisational activity that sits between, around or beyond these. I like the idea of organisational hubs but ideally there would need to be sub-regional to avoid metropolitan centrism. We’ve been struggling with how to run sub-regional networks across local party clusters ever since the system of centrally financed area agents got the chop – that was a long time ago in the 1990s.

  • Matthew Huntbach 11th Jun '14 - 11:09am

    George Potter

    That’s the problem in a nutshell – our structure is set up so you either have to go through the central system at HQ (in which case you won’t be steered towards doing any kind of real life campaigning) or through a local party system which relies on a local party having active members willing and able to do all the tasks required to make it function properly.

    Well, ok then, so the problem is just NOT what you are claiming it is. Now you seem to be saying that what we need is to set up better websites and communication tools to help bring members of the party together. Fine, I don’t disagree with that at all. But your original article didn’t talk about that, it talked about constitutional change in the party.

    The underlying issue here is that the line you are using CAN be used as an excuse to introduce centralising constitutional change which in the long term would have the opposite effect of what you think it would have. That, I think, is what Tony Greaves is getting at, and for reasons you’ve noted he has every reason to be concerned over it.

  • peter tyzack 11th Jun '14 - 1:36pm

    George, thank you for posing the question, whilst I don’t always agree with you at least you have generated a discussion on this, if not some steam!.
    Many useful nuggets of ideas here which need to be worked on and further considered. Perhaps you could coordinate a workshop on the Saturday of Conference to take this further?
    Some of what is suggested above is already in place ie the ability to organise LPs on the area basis that suits the locality, as pushed for by me and many others. Where it breaks down is if the Region doesn’t ensure that all areas are covered. In practice the Regions are too large to be effective volunteer-run organisations and so need to be subdivided. Members are allocated to a Local Party, and can re-locate if they want to. Yes there need to be more voting reps at Fed Conference, but not an ‘everyone who turns up can vote’ otherwise you get a regional imbalance to the result of any vote. Reps unable to attend could vote on-line, simultaneously with the vote in the chamber.
    But there is one key flaw to a lot of what is suggested, the last time I asked, barely 50% of members had registered an email address with the party (no, not my % George, but the answer given by the Chief Exec at a fringe event)..
    and a few other things : we still need a website that is user friendly (try finding a policy index?); when are we going to start getting a ‘stream’ of informative communication, ‘this week’s Party line’ even?; Connect will only work as a cohesive tool and an aid for growing groups if it is financed centrally; it would be good to be able to just ‘pay your sub and get a glossy magazine’- no not that crummy supermarket mag, but a proper members paper, maybe monthly, paid for by adverts.

  • George – my thanks also for introducing this important topic. However, I see the shortcomings at local level as distinctly secondary to those at the centre which, from the headline, was what I thought this post was going to be about.

    We have a “structure and constitution” that came about as a hard-won compromise between the parties to the former Alliance rather than as a structure designed to be either democratic or effective (or even both!). It puts bureaucratic structure above talent and byzantine complexity (and no doubt cost) ahead of transparency. We should make the most of our democratic instincts and small size to be better connected to the zeitgeist (just as successful local parties already are) and nimbler in responding to events; tragically what we actually offer is primarily dull conformity to outworn theories and ponderous reactions. Yet despite these evident shortcomings the constitution has achieved almost the status of Holy Writ.

    For all their shortcomings local parties often do manage to work well, to campaign and to win whereas Lib Dem Towers has shown little ability to do any of these. In fact the more it’s involved in running a campaign the worse the outcome is likely to be – with the recent Euros as Exhibit A.

    In general terms we should recognise that inappropriate institutions will neuter even the most talented of people. We need, as you say at the outset, to take a little of our own constitutional reform medicine and devise a structure that means that the centre liberates individuals’ talents and adds value to campaigns instead of subtracting value. For my money that involves scrapping the Federal committees (at least in anything like in their present form) and the groupthink they seem to engender and instead encourage proper internal politics to emerge. That would be properly radical.

  • Tony Rowan-Wicks 11th Jun '14 - 3:32pm

    I have much sympathy with George. To lose members by disrespecting us is easy, to win people back will take a decade.
    If the LD party tries to survive, the central cabal needs to listen to what isolated people will be saying and respond with a welcome and allow what they can do – there will be few other choices.

  • Although our constitution is technically only 26 years old in reality it is based on principles over a hundred years old. Before the phone really got going, let alone TV or the Internet.

    So those storming in to trash George, just for raising the subject of lack of engagement, would be more helpful if they made their own suggestions to address the issue. And anyone who says “it’s all Clegg’s fault” is in danger of writing a new Godwin’s law.

    Even 26 years ago we had over 100,000 members. Not only do we have much less than half now, they are concentrated in particular areas. Our structure of meetings, committees, resolutions etc scares most people away (not just young people).

    However, by and large, it is the people who love going to meetings that have the power to change things and therefore will not. The recent adjusting of local party boundaries in some areas was fairly painful and little really changed.

    I am very keen to use the East of England Region framework as way of facilitating the cross-boundary contacts that George wants to see. We have tried it already a little, with action days for our key seats. We will be talking about this more in the weeks ahead.

  • This is interesting, but I think George’s analysis is one-sided. Yes, we could make far more use of self-forming and facilitated groups of interest. But we still fight local elections and support local council groups which are geographically-based. If the local structure of the party is undermined in favour of a flexible system ultimately presided over by party HQ (with great difficulty for anyone trying to monitor how it does that), will local members still turn out to deliver or canvass for local candidates, or get involved in discussions about the party’s priorities on the local council?

    At the root of George’s thinking seems to be a model of society in which individuals interact with the party leadership (or the market) without involvement with communities of place, interest or commitment: a Liberal Democrat local party is all three. We already see the leadership of the party (I don’t just mean Nick Clegg, but all those gathered around him) misunderstanding and patronising local Liberal Democrat organisations.

    I’m all in favour of involving all members more (insofar as they want to be involved). But look at Conference. There are two overwhelming reasons why so few people are involved – that many members aren’t particularly interested; and, more seriously, that few can afford the time or money. This last group is vastly more numerous than those who want to attend but can’t get themselves elected by their local party. One area to look at in trying to solve this is undoubtedly how more people can be involved online, at least in discussions about the preparation for Conference motions of policies they know or care about. Online all-member voting is miles off, given the huge difficulties around security. But the other is one George might see as an extra bothersome layer – that those who do go to Conference have a duty to report back, for example by-e-mail to all their local party members willing to be so contacted. A weak provision to this effect is actually in the current standard local party constitution, at least in the East of England, and it could be strengthened. But go for OMOV at conference and you have voting reps who owe nothing to their local party and will have no duty to report back. So in one blow you lose the ability of members who can’t afford to go to Conference to choose representatives they feel comfortable with, and any reasonable expectation that they’ll hear what the people who had the money and time to attend did when they got there.

    I believe new forms of communication should be used to strengthen and not sideline the party’s local structure.

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  • Peter Martin
    " This also means as you pay off the loan, the electronic money your bank created is ‘deleted’ – it no longer exists. You haven’t got richer or poo...
  • suzanne fletcher
    I'll be helping on the phone in tory leaning area. reduce tory vote, support Lib Dem Cllrs....